Will the last player or sponsor to leave please turn out the lights?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Last week, Jon Rahm signed his record-breaking deal with LIV Golf and speculation is rampant on what the next step may be. Will it be a crumbling of merger talks between the PGA Tour and the PIF with more defectors following Rahm? Or will the Rahm signing spur Jay Monahan to get a deal done before he loses more elite players?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): A couple of thoughts spring to mind.  I bet the LIV players are praying for a merger to happen, because I can’t imagine that they’re happy with the silly LIV golf format and are pining to get back to some real competition that a merger might bring.  But that doesn’t address what kind of penalty, if any, they would incur for having defected; or how “loyal” PGA Tour players might be compensated for not succumbing to the OBSCENE Saudi handouts.  My guess is that the merger is off, and that the Saudis think they can win the war by continuing to throw OBSCENE money at otherwise reluctant players.  Rahm’s shameful defection shows that just about anybody will move for the right price, previous statements of loyalty be damned.  I think the PGA Tour will simply have to find more (sponsor) money to compete economically; but will sponsors continue to support and ante-upward if the product gets more diluted?

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): All I know is that neither side will win if players keep dividing, and top talent doesn’t get to go against each other regularly (other than four times per year at Majors). The ACE in the whole for the PGA Tour is Tiger playing more regularly, bringing serious eyeballs/attention to any events he plays (outside of the Majors).

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I’m sure Rahm will get criticized for not being loyal but $500M is a big number. I see more defections coming because players can’t turn down the $$$. And the old argument of wanting to compete against the best players is slowly changing. LIV will gain two or three more elite players this year and several other top 100. Their next move will be to sign the best prospects coming out of college. Jay M is so far out of his league it’s embarrassing, but he will likely become the World Czar of Golf at $20M/year.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): This is the first signing that has made me worried for the PGA Tour.  Monahan better get something sorted quickly before more big names defect, particularly likeable players like Rahm and Tony Finau, if all speculation is true.  The Tour is in big trouble right now.  Can’t you see the PIF dropping out of any talks right now because they clearly have the momentum and all the power?  Or at the very least they will have more control of the merger moving forward.  It’s a mess.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Rahm saw the real picture — he’s good for the only tournaments that matter — and cashed in before it may all fall apart. Unlike Ohtani, who’s dealing with a much more stable enterprise, trust Rahm got most of it up front. No further defectors have such security in the Majors, if they still count, so if any leave it will be back page notes in the few remaining newspaper sports sections. All my friends — both of them — and vagrant golf companions no longer care what happens on the Tour and are struggling to imagine caring about the Majors. And their ball just got rolled back! Thank the Golf Gawds for a Canuck winning the sea-to-sea-sea Open. Maybe there is hope for the game, no thanks to LIV or the Tour.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): My hunch is that poaching will continue for a few months and no merger deal will be finalized by New Year’s.  Apart from the fact that any deal with the PIF is going to have to pass muster with the U.S. Congress (roadblocks ahead, expect delays), other dollars coming in may not mesh with the riyals. Commissioner (dead man walking) Monahan has a giant Rubik’s Cube in front of him, tenuous support from his members and both players and sponsors jumping ship. If you know what FUBAR means, this is FUBAR!

It was revealed last week that Wells Fargo has balked at moving forward as a sponsor of their Signature Event on the PGA Tour after 2024, citing the increased cost of underwriting the prize money. Do you expect other sponsors to re-think their commitments now that purses have more than doubled for some events?

Deeks: Following on from my answer above, yes, I think many sponsors are questioning their “investment” in PGA Tour events.  Imagine this: it’s 2027… the LIV Tour still has no viewers and 10 on-course spectators because its events are just plain silly, but the PGA Tour declares bankruptcy because sponsors have deserted in the wake of defections from greed-motivated players to LIV.  Result?  End of golf as a spectator sport, at least for me.  But as long as the majors and Ryder Cup continue, that’s really all I need anyway.

Loughry: This is unfortunate but not entirely unexpected as renewals come around in a rocky environment (both operational and economic). Some sponsors/partners just may not see enough value or have a reasonable return on their investment with the new price tag. I suspect Wells Fargo won’t be the only one, especially from the banking category.

Schurman: Why wouldn’t they? The decision to become a tournament sponsor requires strong support around a board table with lots of pretty charts and arm-waving. Normally, the owner/CEO is greatly in favour. BUT, at some point, these people have to answer to the financial statements and when they no longer can justify the value and ROI they walk away. Golf has enjoyed 50 years of excellent financial backing due to the charity aspect of the TOUR. Now that is being eroded to increase prize money, sponsorship takes on an entirely different meaning and becomes a much harder sell even when a baseball player signs a deal worth $750M.

Rule: I’m surprised it took this long for a sponsor to come forward.  I guess Honda dropped out of their tourney in Florida, so maybe that was the first domino, but you have to ask the question:  where did all this extra prize money come from when they created the signature events?  And with less top players playing, and thus less eyes on the event, how are the sponsors going to justify their financial contribution.  Again, it’s a mess!

Quinn: The rethink started as soon as the brainiacs at Ponte Vedra came up with the ‘elevated events’ idea that lowered every other event into insignificance. Calling them ‘Signature’ is slapping lipstick on the pig and demanding a hyper-inflated imaginary price for the cosmetics. Golf is a fringe sport on the only metric that matters — US TV ratings. The Tour Championship — oh, how Ponte Vedra loves that one — at its best draws a tenth of the viewers of a big mid-season college football game. Successful companies — at least their marketing folks — know well the value of brand identification and audience numbers. They all be looking at their Tour contract termination date, and ain’t buying at the fantasy price the Tour is now asking.

Mumford: One of the ideas behind the elevated, designated, big money, no-cut Signature events was to get all the best players playing against one another more often and funneling untold riches to them. Poaching has killed that concept. Events without the LIV defectors only have some of the best and even the Players Championship doesn’t have the best field in pro golf anymore. Sponsor CEOs are being asked to pay a lot more for much less and that’s just too hard to justify. More of them will be bailing on this flim flam as soon as they can.

The Grant Thornton Invitational was completed last Sunday with Lydio Ko and Jason Day edging Canadians Brooke Henderson and Corey Conners by a single shot after three days of mixed team play. By all accounts, the tournament was a huge success and will become an annual event. What did you like about the Invitational and how would you shape future iterations of this event?

Deeks: I thought it was great, not least because Brooke and Corey were right in it till the end.  I enjoyed the quality of golf, and the clear mutual respect and smiles among all players.  I found the final round a bit confusing, perhaps because Terry Gannon and Morgan Pressel never got around to mentioning that the format of the day was play each other’s drive then finish out.  I’d rather see the tournament be 3-day alternate shot.  Someone on the broadcast suggested the co-ed tournament format would be great for the Olympics, and I fully agree.

Loughry: Really enjoyed what I saw from this event. Would have been better to see international flags associated with teams being a little more prominent, but if you knew who the players were, you knew their nationality. It was great to see shoulder to shoulder playing and mutual respect. It’s good to showcase this on TV, as there are so many club level events played like this (mixed match play, stroke play, Stableford events).

Schurman: This is my space!!!!! I have been pounding this drum for the past 25 years. The concept is incredible, and the Ladies far surpassed all predictions of their ability to contribute to the team score. However, the coverage was awful! Ninety % (a guess) was putting. Why not show tee shots and fairway shots, the decision about which ‘ball’ to take, and what iron each played on a par three? There is so much information in the background that was missed. Hopefully, TV Producers will review their tapes and do a much better job. There seemed to be a big difference between the $$$ for 1st and 2nd place. BTW I still think including the Ladies in the Presidents Cup would be sensational.  I’m not sure about Brook’s new glasses style but she did wear red & white on Sunday; too bad Corey didn’t.

Rule: What’s not a mess was the Grant Thornton event, which was fun to watch.  I guess having Corey and Brooke in contention was part of the reason I found it intriguing but overall, it was a success, as far as silly season events go.  I like watching the women compete with the men and show the world how talented they truly are.  I’m not sure how I would shape the event moving forward – perhaps more teams would be a start.  Here’s hoping the event grows.

Quinn: It had all the drama and excitement of a mixed member-guest at the club, except the banter wasn’t half as funny. Guessing Grant Thornton, whoever he is, doesn’t want to spend $20 M on a really silly event, so will settle on wasting a couple of million for this level of irrelevance and silliness. For this ‘She hits, He hits’ thing to be watchable it has to be in season and mean something. And that’s a stretch too far.

Mumford: It was an enjoyable exhibition but once a year is enough. A bigger field would be an improvement; more golf analysis and less cheerleading would be appreciated.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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